[Currently listening to: Mega Man remixes.]
I’m starting to realize the value of a dynamic introduction.
Typically, I adopt the Dickensian manner of characters meeting each other: an individual bumps into another individual and discovers a memorable quirkiness about this new acquaintance. These two characters now proceed to quip about their backstory at length (or sink into a tense silence where they hide something important about themselves) and join each other for my convenience as a writer who wants people to meet because plot, that’s why.
But far better introductions are made out of need or a certain character’s motivation. It gives a better glue to the upcoming relationship between characters than if they were just to meet by happenstance.
Video games by rule must pull this off if they want to keep a good pace in gameplay. So over these summer months we’re going to have a look at the ways we can adopt a VG method of character introductions.
(These introductions will mostly include heroes meeting fellow heroes/anti-heroes. I feel like the subject of meeting the villain is a whole ‘nother topic on its own.)
COMMENCE WITH PART ONE!
Part I: Meeting Out of Need
- Frog & Ayla: Chrono Trigger
In an attempt to rescue Queen Leene and restore the timeline’s continuity, Crono and Lucca find themselves in a pinch when they’re assaulted by Fiends at a highly-suspect chapel. Just when they think the battle is theirs, one Fiend catches Lucca off guard and assaults her. Is it all over for Lucca? Will she die a brutal death 400 years in her world’s past??
No, because outta nowhere this frog warrior springs in and cuts that Fiend in half (at least, that’s how I interpret the flickering pixels). And he’s like, “Don’t let your guard down, fool.”
And Lucca’s like, “AAH, GROSS, A TALKING FROG.”
And Crono’s like, “…”
The party of three goes on to form a brief alliance based on their mutual search for the Queen, but already we know a great deal from Frog’s dynamic entrance with him having to explain very little:
- He is in some way connected to the Queen.
- He’s more than skilled with a blade.
- His physical appearance is unnatural (revealed by Lucca’s shock upon seeing him).
How would it have been different if Crono and Lucca just randomly bumped into Frog while they were exploring Guardia castle? They might spend a few dull text boxes explaining to each other why they mutually need to find the Queen, then figure out why they should join forces; and if the writer was feeling particularly verbose he could add in a dash of Frog angsting about his appearance.
Instead, since the three of them must meet in the immediacy of a search-and-rescue mission, the introductions have to be brief – and give just enough intrigue for us to wonder how this Frog fellow is going to contribute to the rest of the story.
Ayla’s introduction is practically identical to Frog’s, but it drives home the same point: introductions made out of need reveal the essentials of a new character. This primal woman can mow down six imposing Reptites. BY HERSELF. Ergo, the player knows right away, “Dang, don’t mess with this chick.”
Her scenario also establishes the setting, as well as many of her own plot points:
- There’s man-dinos terrorizing the prehistoric era.
- Humans and man-dinos are apparently not on friendly terms.
- …I don’t really have a third point. I just like writing things in three’s.
In summary (wow, this went all “college thesis”, didn’t it?), Frog’s and Ayla’s intros play out brilliantly when it comes to setting up their interaction with other characters in the party – as well as drawing the players into their personal stories. We don’t need long exposition telling us who they are or why they’re intent on joining up with our heroes.
Oh, but don’t you dare think we’re done yet. We’ve got to talk about one more character from a different video game:
- Jeff: Earthbound
Who doesn’t love this nerd? And why DO we love this nerd? Is it the diverse array of firearms at his disposal? That stylin’ green slacks-and-coat combo? The fact that he can create a beam gun out of a broken harmonica?
Well…yes, actually. ‘Cause that’s all pretty boss.
But alongside all that, he’s a character that arrives out of need, which gives the player a sense of purpose as we lead him toward rescuing Ness and Paula.
Our introduction to him is far different from how we’re introduced to Frog and Ayla. We don’t get to see his interactions with the other characters immediately; instead, we’re brought into his personal world and shown what he must leave behind and face in order to help a couple of strange kids he doesn’t even know.
We’re essentially drawn into his needs as he tries to respond to the needs of new friends. This is itself a genius move, because it creates empathy without requiring excessive explanation about this new character.
So now that I’ve geeked out for lines and lines on this post, here’s a question for the comments section: what makes a character introduction stick with you?
Next month we’ll look at “Meeting to Establish Motivation”. No sneak peeks at the characters I’ll pick for that topic; you’ll just have to come back to find out!
Chrono Trigger is the property of Square-Enix. There are many ways you can purchase and enjoy this game.
Earthbound is the property of Nintendo and Shigesato Itoi. You can play it via the Wii U virtual console.